Washington’s teeth-gritting commute is regularly measured in miles of backup and lost productivity, but for one man Tuesday morning, the most important measure was the time between contractions.
“My daughter is having a baby,” Jerome Chappelle told a 911 dispatcher as he sat in District traffic, unable to reach a hospital.
It was a particularly chaotic morning rush, even by the standards of the area’s infamously bad slogs: One life was gained and three were lost. A six-car accident sent a car airborne on the Beltway, killing two people and closing the inner loop in Forestville for hours. In Northeast Washington, an accident involving a tractor-trailer and a dirt bike left one man dead.
The backup from the D.C. accident snared the father and his daughter, Jeromeka Chappelle, 24, on New York Avenue as they made their way to Washington Hospital Center about 6:30 a.m. At first, the dispatcher didn’t realize that they were in a vehicle, a recording of the call provided by D.C. 911 dispatchers showed.
“What’s your address?” the dispatcher asked.
“I’m not in the address,” Jerome Chappelle snapped. “I’m on the call on my way to the hospital. The water done broke, and she said she feels the baby.”
Jeromeka Chappelle sat in the passenger’s seat of the family’s Chevrolet minivan screaming. She said the pain overwhelmed any fear she had of giving birth in the backup. Nevertheless, her mother tried to soothe her in a cellphone call, but Jeromeka dropped the phone during a bad contraction.
Meanwhile, the dispatcher tried to direct Jerome Chappelle to a fire station, but he could barely hear the man over his daughter’s cries.
After about three minutes on the phone with the dispatcher, Jerome Chappelle spotted some traffic officers and said he was going to flag them down. Suddenly, he blurted out: “The baby just came out.”
“How’s she doing?” the dispatcher asked after a bit.
“She’s breathing, but she’s crying,” he said of the baby.
Jeromeka Chappelle said she was relieved.
“I was just happy,” she said. “She got here safe, and we ended up in a safe place.”
An emergency crew soon arrived and the mother and daughter, who was named Jonae, were taken to a hospital, where they were in good condition.
The pileup on the Beltway unfolded about the same time. A Ford Freestyle and a Honda Civic collided about 6:30 a.m. while heading north on the outer loop near Ritchie Marlboro Road, Maryland State Police said. The Civic then collided with a Toyota Camry and both crashed into a guardrail, police said.
The Civic went airborne, landed on the roof of a BMW on the inner loop and then rolled onto the roof of a Toyota Rav4. A sixth car was damaged by flying debris from the other crashes.
The drivers of the Civic, identified as Rodolfo U.V. Amaya, 31, of Oxon Hill, and the BMW, identified as Candace M. Hewitt, 41, of Davidsonville, were pronounced dead at the scene.
The drivers of the Toyota Camry and Rav4 were taken to a hospital in serious condition. The driver of the Ford Freestyle, who was not identified, was taken into custody on suspicion of driving under the influence.
The chain-reaction accident briefly closed the Beltway in both directions, causing a backup that stretched for miles. The inner loop did not fully reopen until just before noon.
The District accident took place about 5 a.m., said Officer Anthony Clay, a police spokesman. The tractor-trailer was heading north on Florida Avenue and was trying to make a right turn onto Eckington Place when the dirt bike approached from behind and slid underneath the truck, Clay said. The tractor-trailer’s rear tire ran over the driver and killed him.
Police have not identified the 18 year old.
Tuesday’s slog left even hardened commuters exasperated. Shelly West, a College Park resident, described her Beltway commute as one of the worst she has experienced. Her 40-minute drive to Alexandria turned into a two-hour ordeal.
“All of humanity was trying to figure out how to get off the Beltway,” West said.